World War 2 Stories for Sheffield

                           Jean Hood 

A London Evacuee to Dorset

By Actiondesk Sheffield

People in story: Jean Hood (nee' Spinks)
Location of story: Dorset
Background to story: Civilian


My memories of the 2nd World War

I was born in 1936 and was just 3 years old at the start of the 2nd world war.

One of my first memories was of being dragged out of bed in the middle of the night and hauled to the nearest air-raid shelter, which was about ¼ mile away from where I lived with my mother, brother and sister in North London. We were staying with an Aunt and Uncle and I can still remember my brother, who would have been about 7 years old, being very slow and sleepy, and my Uncle threatening to leave him behind. I never did like that Uncle!

Not long after that, we moved to a house just round the corner from there, and for some time whenever there was an air raid my mother put us under a huge steel table called a Morrison shelter, and she would squeeze into a cupboard in the same room. The government supplied these tables and they also supplied us with gas masks, which smelt horrible, but we all had to carry them around just in case there was a gas attack. By this time I had another sister, and Mum was given a big egg shaped container to put the baby into should the need arise.

I suppose the air raids were increasing in London by the time Mum decided that my brother and I should be evacuated. I was 5 years old when we were put on a train at Paddington along with hundreds of other children, and my brother was given strict instructions to take care of me. I seem to remember all he was concerned about was swapping his jam sandwiches for my cheese sandwiches. Having had 3 children of my own, I can’t imagine how my Mum felt about letting us go off to Dorset at such a young age and into the hands of strangers, but it was wartime and she had 2 younger children to care for without the help of my Dad who had been called up as soon as the war started.

My first billet was at a place called Little Bredy with a little old lady called Miss Chips. All I can remember of my stay there was that she had a cockerel who was quite vicious and used to chase me as I went through the garden to go to school every day. Many’s the time it would peck at my glove and it terrified me. Needless to say I wasn’t sorry to leave there shortly afterwards, mainly I think because my brother was being neglected where he was staying, and I’m sure poor Miss Chips would not have been sorry to see me go.

I remember my father coming to visit us during our stay in Little Bredy. I watched him come over the hill in his smart army uniform; He was a very handsome man and I used to tell people that he was Italian. I think I got that idea because he told me he was going to Italy. I know he was in North Africa and at Monte Casino.

My brother and I were then moved to a village near Dorchester, called Sydling. He went to a farm and I stayed with a family who had one daughter. Although I wasn’t aware of it at the time, the mother was ill treating me, doing things like locking me into a room without light or furniture. She also gave her daughter the clothes my mother sent for me and for example, I would be wearing Wellington boots that were far too small for me. The villagers must have gossiped about me and contacted my mother because before long she came and took me home. She was a feisty cockney and I’m sure my carer was left in no doubt what my mother thought about her.

Although I was glad to be home, the raids were really bad by then and the Doodlebugs were frightening. Unbeknown to me, the vicar in Sydling had written to my mother and offered to take me in, so back I went to Sydling and the vicarage. The housekeeper, Miss Rideout, cared for me as never before. Like many children from London, I was considered to be undernourished by the country folk, and Miss Rideout set about fattening me up with among other things, calves foot jelly, cod liver oil and malt, and good wholesome food. My companion at the vicarage was the vicar’s niece from Cheltenham. She was an only child and had so many toys and dolls to play with, I was so envious, and often wonder what happened to her after the war.

I spent the next 4 years at the vicarage, attending church 3 times on Sundays. My brother was totally spoilt at the farm. The only reminders we had that the country was at war were the occasional searches by the villagers for enemy pilots who had either been shot down or their planes had crashed, as they attempted to limp back to Germany. The village people would then go out armed with pitchforks and prod the haystacks for any sign of someone concealed within them.

Mostly, it was an idyllic time for me. The Vicar would often entertain the American Officers from a camp based just outside the village and they would come bringing chocolate and toys for us. I recall walking to Cerne Abbas with my friend Nesta, to sit on the Giant’s foot, picking primroses along the way. I still go back to the village in the spring and do that walk to see the primroses, but a Doctor now owns the Vicarage and the little school opposite was bought recently by an evacuee and converted to a house.

No wonder we both found it hard to settle back into London life after the war.

When Hitler started sending over the flying bombs, my mother decided it was time for her to move out of London and she took my 2 sisters to Bradford, this time to a chicken farm, where she had a very warm welcome. When she returned to London she had to re-adjust not only to having another couple of mouths to feed (and my brother and I were fussy!), but also to handing over the reins to my father when he returned home, after being independent for so long. The war had changed all our lives forever!